Kurt Hickson was awarded a Micro Bursary to undertake two research trips to London, visiting several exhibitions including Painters’ Painters at Saatchi Gallery, which ran from 30 November 2016 – 22 March 2017 and Robert Rauschenberg at Tate Modern, which ran from 1 December 2016 – 2 April 2017.

 

Dexter Dalwood, Kurt Cobain’s Greenhouse, 2000, Painters’ Painters, Saatchi Gallery. Dexter Dalwood/Saatchi Gallery, London

 

Tuesday 28 February 2017

To his credit Charles Saatchi has continued to advocate painting despite its steady decline over recent years. Painters’ Painters at Saatchi Gallery was an exhibition that continued to challenge modern conceptions about the oldest form of image making. The show featured nine international artists of varying ages and stages in their careers. Each with their own gallery space, there were nine distinct approaches to the medium.

The high point of the exhibition for me was the collage-like paintings of David Salle; The Neo-Expressionist being an old college favourite of mine with several good examples of his work on show here. Other highlights included Dexter Dalwood’s painting Kurt Cobain’s Greenhouse (2000), the quirky mix of works by Richard Aldrich and the humorous paintings of Ansel Krut and Martin Maloney.

It could be argued that Painters’ Painters didn’t really live up to the title of the show and neither did it form a complete picture of painting at present (there were no female artists, no pure abstract works and some paintings were nearly thirty years old). The picture the exhibition did paint, however, was a fun one. It was an exhibition that managed to emphasise painting’s basic fundamental elements without taking itself too seriously. It celebrated painting without the need to declare that ‘painting’s back’. Painters’ Painters at Saatchi Gallery was an amusing and entertaining show, that succeeded in emphasising the inherent pleasure of putting paint to canvas; something that I imagine has inspired thousands of art students who visited to do just that.

During the day I managed to take in several other shows including Luiz Zerbini at Stephen Friedman Gallery – the Brazilian painter being someone I’ve admired for a while but this being the first time I’d seen multiple works of his together; Gavin Turk’s Who What When Where How & Why at Newport Street Gallery, which goes without saying had a good old school Brit Art vibe about it; and Monochrome at Ordovas Gallery, a show that looked at the purity and clarity of the use of a single colour – white featuring a single work by five artists including Richard Serra and Barbara Hepworth. I also made it to the Maria Lassnig: A Painting Survey PV at Hauser & Wirth on the evening for a few beers and a look at the Austrian artist’s evolution from experimental abstract painter to figurative painter.

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (Spread), 1983. Solvent transfer and acrylic on wood panel, with umbrellas, 188.6 x 245.7 x 88.9 cm. © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York

Saturday 1 April 2017

The second part of my Micro Bursary was used to visit the major Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at Tate Modern. As an artist with a strong interest in process and materiality myself, it was great to see the physical quality of Rauschenberg’s use of non-traditional materials and ‘found objects’ up close. From his pop art silkscreen paintings, to his glossy black monochromes; his ‘combines’ through to the formation of Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.); Rauschenberg for me was the ultimate painter-maker.

The show was made up of eleven rooms in a loose chronological order, each presenting a particular shift in direction or technique during the artists six-decade long career. Through a remarkable range of media including painting, digital printing, sculpture, performance, electronics and photography his endless curiosity into all forms of art-making and his constant quest for innovation was plain to see. Several key works were on display, including the stuffed Angora goat, the silkscreen prints of Kennedy and the infamous Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953).

It was the last weekend of the show when I visited and so it was annoyingly busy.  The security guards and gallery assistants were on high alert and on a serious crack-down against touchers and secret copy-right infringing snappers. I was embarrassingly caught several times in the later case. Interestingly whilst looking at Bed (1955), a work I’d seen at MoMA a few years earlier, I noticed a small moth crawling around on the inside of its protective Perspex case.  I informed a guard that was walking by, telling them that they might want to notify someone and have it removed as moths eat quilts and bed sheets.  However, I was told that “It was probably meant to be there … that it was just part of the artwork … and that it would probably die soon”. Clever guy this Rauschenberg.

Before the day was out I managed to head over to FOLD Gallery to check out the Valérie Kolakis show Done With Objects Because Things Take Place, an interesting and somewhat inspiring exhibition of mainly sculptural works that were either made up of or hint at everyday objects.  The use of materials and objects found here in Kolakis’ work echoing Rauschenberg’s own exploration into art production.

Valérie Kolakis, DONE WITH OBJECTS BECAUSE THINGS TAKE PLACE, installation view at FOLD Gallery.


Conclusion

The first half of the bursary was used to engage with several pure painting shows, something that is a rarity within the West Midlands. With multiple exhibitions showcasing a broad range of strong contemporary work, I took away a feeling that despite the odds, painting is still very much alive and kicking in the capital. The second part of the bursary gave me the opportunity to rediscover an artist that constantly broke with conventions. An artist that reminds us all of the joy of working with what’s readily available, questioning, but also reinforcing the possibilities of art-making today.